Get ready to learn more about the book In the Shadow of Love in this discussion with sapphic author J.E. Leak.
Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz J.E. Leak about In the Shadow of Love, writing, reading, and more.
This book is part of the Forbidden Relationship category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.
Why did you write In the Shadow of Love?
The honest answer is that readers would absolutely KILL me if I didn’t pay off that slooooow burn from the first book in the series (In the Shadow of the Past). At its heart, this series is a love story. In the Shadow of Love continues Kathryn and Jenny’s story as they navigate forbidden love, desire, and duty to their country in a time of war. They come together as a couple in this book, and they’re going to need each other for the roller coaster to come!
Who is your favorite character in the book?
Oh, hands down, Kathryn is my favorite character in this book—in the whole series, actually. Not to take anything away from Jenny or their relationship, but Kathryn’s arc drives this story. We love her—we hate her—we root for her—we curse her. What more can you ask of a character? She’s so complex and damaged, and to watch her fall in love against her will is a sight to behold. I ached for her to be happy, and I think readers did too.
Fortunately, she’s nothing like me! But as an author, can I really say that? I mean, she must be in me somewhere, right? I’ll just say that I would make different choices and leave it at that (lol).
What inspired the idea for In the Shadow of Love?
I’ve always been a fan of 1940s noir films, so that part was baked in. What planted the seed for this story, however, was the unprecedented (in my lifetime) patriotism I witnessed here in the US after 9/11. It reminded me of the WW2 era, when most of the country banded together for a greater cause. It got me thinking of a young woman during that time who was unapologetically patriotic, wanted to make a difference in the world, and would do anything to help the war effort. This fierce, naïve little firecracker became Jenny, and the Shadow series was born.
What was the biggest challenge writing this book?
I think the biggest challenge with this book was that I had set an intricate table in the first book, and there are certain expectations for the second book. I’d better bring out the fine china and silverware, and I’d better serve a fantastic meal with dessert and top-shelf liquor. After that, I’ve got spinning plot plates to keep aloft, secrets to juggle, and a spill on aisle five to clean up. Writing a series is a challenge, especially when the books aren’t standalone. Each book is a promise to the reader that if you stick with me here, I’ll do my best to make it all worth it. I thank every single reader for taking the leap of faith!
How much research did you need to do for In the Shadow of Love?
The book is historical fiction, so countless hours went into research. I was already familiar with the time period from my love of 1940s films, but those are glamorized versions of the era. In order to give readers an authentic experience, I delved into the intricacies of daily life on the homefront during WWII—often with a furrowed brow. It took how long to create that hairstyle? And wait, how many undergarments?
It’s also a spy book, so I pored over declassified documents from the Office of Strategic Services (where Kat and Jenny worked), read books by former agents, and watched documentaries to learn as much as I could about processes and procedures. All that research gets sprinkled seamlessly into the story, because the last thing you want is to draw attention to the research, no matter how many hours you spent finding that perfect tidbit of information.
What is your favorite line from your book?
The war compressed time into small windows of grace surrounded by uncertainty and death, but Jenny’s presence made her forget about the war and life’s impermanence.
What is your writing process like?
I would describe myself as a recovering pantser. While I love just wandering creatively wherever my mind leads me, it’s not very efficient in the actual writing of a novel. Knowing where I’m going next keeps me heading in the right direction while still honoring the creative part of the process.
Where do you usually write, and what do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
I usually write in my office, and I need complete silence. I mean noise cancelling headphone type silence. I get distracted easily by everything from a loud car driving down the street (really, dude?) to why is my laptop fan working so hard right now?
What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?
I usually don’t have a problem seeing the world through my characters’ eyes, but on the odd occasion that I haven’t a clue how a particular character would react to something, I’ve changed the point of view. I usually write in third person, but if I’m really stuck, I’ll switch to first person, and that really unlocks the scene for me. Once I’ve established a character’s mindset, I rewrite the scene in third person (a conversion that isn’t as easy as it sounds).
Do you feel bad putting your characters through the wringer?
I absolutely do not feel bad for the characters (and oh, good heavens, do mine go through it). What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, and all the trials and tribulations make their eventual HEA all the sweeter. I tend to write character-driven stories, and readers get fully invested, so while I don’t feel bad for the characters, I do have empathy for the readers who have to endure the roller coaster of emotions along with them. There’s a certain scene in a certain book in the series (not this one) which, because of spoilers, is a ‘If you know, you know’ situation and while I will not admit to any evil glee, I will offer virtual hugs to readers.
What type of books do you enjoy reading the most?
I’ve always loved gritty books with romances in them: thrillers, mysteries, romantic blends. I guess I just enjoy that darker aspect to a story … the raised brow as I turn page after page anxious to see how the main characters get out of a jam. I’m still drawn to that type of story, but I’m a sucker for a good ole angsty pure romance as well.
What books did you grow up reading?
Curiously, I was not a reader growing up. I was a television and movie child. Because of that, I’m a visual writer. I see the scenes playing out in my head like a movie and I’m the director. I have to edit a lot of my “director” vision from my final draft for fear I’m not giving the reader enough room to create the scene for themselves. I consume more books than television or movies these days.